Tuesday, December 28, 2010

World English Extravaganza

I am proctoring tests this week, which is always fun. These are “re-tests,” a second bite at the apple for students who failed the final the first time around. One of the tests today was an English test, EN 305, some kind of writing class.

By now I have a lot of experience of what they call “World English.” Listening to it, reading it, even speaking it on occasion if I think that I can help my listener by simplifying the verbs and leaving out the prepositions, which leaves you with sentences like “he go market.” It’s always fun.

For this test, the students could choose between seven subjects to write a short essay about. That’s technically a mistake, ending a sentence with a preposition, but we native-speakers make mistakes all the time too. Besides, “. . . seven subjects about which to write a short essay” sounds like shit on a stick. One must be flexible.

The most popular subject choice was, “Characteristics of a Good Mother,” almost to the exclusion of all others. One test came in very fast, always a bad sign. The essay was very, very short. The sentences were, let’s say, interesting. How’s this: “She don’t smoking and going out everyday.” At least it had a period though. In this brief essay there were sentences with periods, some without, and some with periods as big as bowling balls, perhaps for emphasis. The sentiments expressed were sweet. The conclusion was, “Everyone should accept her mother, during she live and take care her.” I think so too.

These poor students, English grammar sure kicks most of them to the curb. Articles are especially hard. They are either missing or inserted on the chance that they may be required. There are none in Thai, hence the confusion. Someone told me last week that many of our students are choosing to study Russian these days, and the terror of articles could be a reason. Russian has none either, as in the exchange: “what is?” “is pencil.” (“Shto eto?” “Eto karandash.”) In my university German classes, if we left out an article the professor would admonish us that we were not studying Russian, sometimes prefacing this remark with a shouted, “where is my weapon!!!”

Myself, I can’t imagine a Thai student wanting to study Russian. I mean, why would they? Love of Russian cinema? I certainly can’t imagine any Thai wanting to go there, and any Russian that you are likely to meet outside of Russia probably speaks English. Maybe for jobs in the tourist business, or talking to one of the very popular Russian prostitutes.

One student chose the topic: “Compare Marriage with Living Together.” She added a sub-title: “Marriage is more disaster than live-in relationships.” This was a good little essay too, heartfelt and very direct. She described some of the things that disturbed her about marriage, like all that fighting, lying, and the cheating, and she observed that most people these days just get divorced anyway after a while. She felt that one would be better off to take all of that time wasted on anniversary parties and family gatherings and devote it instead to building a business. The essay was compelling. She might not know it, but I think she’d make a great wife.

There was a part two of the test, but it was way too hard for all of them. “Summarize the following essay in two paragraphs.” The essay was about breathing meditation, which is something that all Thais know a little about. They may not do it, but they’ve heard about it, and depending on where they went to school they were more or less forced to do it. It was a long, windy essay. On one test, part two consisted of two sentences, one of which was, “In this essay dissessed about breathing meditation is a way to be people to do for relaxaion.” The word “dissessed” appeared in the other sentence too, so it wasn’t a typo.

This job is sure fun.

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